Monday, March 14, 2005

Les Duex Alpes – Skiing the French Alps

Putting this entry together after the trip proved to be an absolute nightmare..! We have just had the most action-packed week of skiing I could have ever hoped for, and there's sure to be a few more trips to be had while we are over here.

For months now we'd all been talking about this trip, had already met the other members of the LDA Ski Team at an earlier gathering, and the e-mail banter had been endless with all of the ski reports and resort information each of us could find. Expectations were high, and I think were definitely met by the week that just was.

I'll go all the way back to the start of the week, when we moved out of our place at Barnes with most of our belongings, to stay the night at Darren and Alison's place at Putney. Instead of doing the sensible thing and staying in that night to rest up for the big week ahead - Darren, John W, Carly and I headed to the ol' faithful Spotted Horse pub in Putney High Street for a cheeky pint or two. Carly left the pub early to get some rest, but us lads continued on. Needless to say, when we left the pub lock-in at 1:30am (or thereabouts, the exact time is uncertain), we were well and truly flogged and absolutely fired up for the ski trip.

Problem being, the ski trip started in 2.5 hours time, when the alarm clock went off at around 4am for us to get up, get ready, and pile into a taxi for the trip out to Gatwick!! Darren and still very much under the influence as we travelled southwards, and by the time we'd made it to the check-in queue it was obvious to the others in the group who met us there that it had been a big night!

In the departure lounge at London Gatwick - Darren W. and I don't feel too flash

We were all checked in and boarded a very jam-packed Monarch charter flight to Lyon, where we boarded buses and travelled the 2.5 hours to the resort - Les Deux Alpes. On landing at Lyon we were treated to a snow-covered field, with brown rabbits seen dashing across the taxiways as we exited the jet via ice-covered staircases.

Snow on the ground at Lyon Airport!

The bus trip to the resort was through even more falling snow, which only abated as we climbed into the Alpes and through the most impressive Alpine scenary i've ever seen - unfortunately the trip to Falls Creek just doesn't cut it when you compare the small villages and amazing passes, tunnels, hairpin turns, and cuttings along this narrow road. I later found out from a ski instructor that the road to the resort is used as part of the Tour de France, and forms part of the mountain stages with the race stopping at the resort during the summer.

We arrived at the resort, and were taken first to our chalet to meet our hosts and to find out how to get out ski gear from the hire stores. The chalet we had booked purely based on the description on the website was brilliant.. Quite traditional looking, and very large for our group which weas big enough to allow us to have it exclusively. The living area was massive and would be the scene for plenty of big nights in after dinner.. We were certainly on-snow, and there had been sufficient falls to allow us to ski in and out of the front door from the adjacent run and chair lift which took us up to another run and across to the centre of the front valley of the resort. From there you took a real European gondola (a first for me!) up and over the front valley, and over a series of huge skiing areas on the way up to 2600m.

We left the chalet and got organised with our ski's at the hire shop, and then returned to the chalet for our first amazing dinner prepared by our hosts - a pair of English women who were nearing the end of their season of work, and were certainly keen for a few drinks with our outgoing group. Every night we'd get a three course meal and all the wine we could drink while we ate - it sounded like, and was, the best way to finish a long day's skiing.

To get a feel for the resort, the lads headed up to the nearby Irish Bar (yes, at a French Alps ski resort) for a Guinness or Kronnenberg, and a game of pool.

The boys up at the Irish Pub; and the main street of the village

We headed back in time for dinner and a few settling in drinks that night around the lounge. Of course, being the first night, a few team challenges were set - the first being who would be the first one to climb onto the ceiling rafters & beams above the living area. Later that night Darren met the challenge, and we made sure a camera was on to record the stupid bastard up as he climed up there!

With a few of us (such as yours truely) sporting the first of many successive hangovers the next morning, the next day was an early start as we rose to our first cooked breakfast, cup of brewed coffee, and got our gear on for the first runs of the week. While several of us headed to lessons, the boys (of course, not needing lessons!) headed to some challenging blue and black runs half way up the mountain. I quickly found my ski legs, although I was to discover just as quick that these boys were serious skiers - most of them probably had 10+ trips, and although I was quietly terrified about where they were going to take me, I knew I would benefit greatly if I kept up.

Heading up in the gondola; and our skiing group high up at 3200m

First stop, a black run which was covered in drifting snow andice all over the face, and a damn steep slope which levelled out approaching the lift boarding area. So, with memories of black runs in Falls Creek amongst the gum trees flooding back, I hesitently leaned forward and began my turns with some sliding on the ice and some rather fast moments sliding on the edge between confidence and no control! I still vividly remember this run weeks later, simply because of the relief I felt when I made my final braking turn and stopped at the end after a long straight run over the bottom turn. I was absolutely out of breath, both from exhaustion and exhilaration, and feeling emotions of panic as I looked back and saw what i'd just covered on one of my first runs of the trip!!! Brilliant!

For the next few days our group of lads traversed all over the various mountain of the relatively small resort (by European standards), picking out our favourites and perfecting them with ever increasing ego-fuelled speed. The skiing was just nothing short of brilliant.. Each day we would stop for lunch at one of the on-snow restuarants, and get a gourmet toasted sandwich grill, always with french fries of course! Not the healthiest food, but a great energy shot to get you back out there for the rest of the day.

Stopping for lunch - look at that view!

After just a day getting back her ski legs following her first trip a few years earlier back in Australia, Carly was into it again and having her daily lessons on the green and blue runs up the mountain. It wasn't so much the skiing that was causing her problems on this trip though. On our 9 year anniversay day (3rd March), we spent the day skiing together up between 2600 and 3200m. In normal weather this provides for the most amazing scneary and the best runs because the snow is at its freshest, but not this day - once we got about 3000m, a very cold blizzard-style wind buffetted us as we started the runs, and Carly's very cold hands could not take it. It was a very slow run back down to lunch at the restuarant at 2600m, and although she bravely skiied the whole way - there were some hairy moments on tricky sections of this red run as she skidded off the side of the piste and for seconds I thought she'd gone off the edge of a cliff. I raced over to find her lying on her back laughing at herself - apparently finding the falling over a lot more fun tham the difficult skiing! I just had the best day togother with her, doing one of my favourite things with my favourite girl - we stopped and had a beer and hot chocolate at lunch, sitting in the deck chairs looking out across the alps. We went out together for dinner that night and it topped off a fantastic anniversary day together on the snow. I am constantly reminded of a promise I made at about 2800m, which was caught on video - 'We are going to Egypt for our next anniversary!!'

Carly and I skiing together on our anniversary day; and stopping for a celebratory drink

Night time after dinner became a regular pattern of drinking as much wine as the hosts would allow, and then me trying to convince the exhausted souls around me that it was time to hit the bars up-town.. Some nights I succeded, other nights we'd just hang around the chalet, enjoying more of the "von rouge" or the fridge shelf full of local beers, and laughing (or crying) over the days skiing. Each night there was always the review of the days photos and small videos on one of the Notebooks brought with us, and by the end of the trip we'd amassed between us some 400+ images and a whole stack of hilarious videos of people skiing very well, and some not so well.

The usual antics sitting around the chalet living room

One of the last nights out with the chalet staff before we head home

On one other night, our tour company held a short pub crawl around a few of the local bars and clubs, and so a few of us opted for fancy dress gear claimed from the hallway cupboard of the chalet, and hit the town. The pub crawl was great fun, and with a whole stack of complimentary shots to stomach as we trekked from pub to pub, the next morning's breakfast table was somewhat quiet as the chalet was a bit slow to wake up and get moving. One memorable moment at the very first bar, was a drinking game where poor Simon (one of Andy's English mates) got stiched up and made to drink a pint of spirits, which was the equvilent of 8-10 drinks in one hit - Simon decided to pull stumps a bit earlier than the rest of us, and was not a well boy the next day!! We all kicked on that night, with the photos below saying it all. At one stage I was found walking the street outside one of the clubs, having lost most of my clothes to some Engligh girls inside. I remember very little of this and similar events discussed the next morning at breakfast.

Photos from the pub crawl

Skiing the next day at 3000m - with the wig yet again..

The day after the pub crawl ended up being more about the scenary and relaxing on holidays, than the skiing. A small group of us ventured up the other side of the resort, and found ourselves an outdoor bar area which had a small DJ setup with speakers, cranking out some dance/house tunes while the punters who'd stopped by for some lunch and a beer just chilled out in some deck chairs on the snow. It was possibly the best afternoon of the whole trip. The few of us who'd ventured out that day after the craziness of the night before were rewarded with a few hours sitting back in deckchairs sitting on the snow, sunglasses on, dozing off, enjoying the alps. Brilliant stuff I won't forget. Sitting there you had to say that the French know how to do this best - who else would think to put a bar halfway down a run at about 2000m, and serve up cold Kronenberg and a BBQ on the snow while playing tunes for the patrons and skiing flying past.

Relaxing in deck chairs at the bar we found - the day AFTER the pub crawl

As the week went on the skiing for me just got better and better. I was progressively being pushed along by Chris T. - another of Andy's mates on the trip - who is an excellent advanced skiier who is amazing to watch. By the end of the week it was just the two of us taking to some of the more challenging black runs at some decent speed, and with the Twitch pushing me along I could definitely feel that my skiing had advanced in the week despite not having lessons during this trip.

Twitchell and I around the mountain (the photo at the top-right has Mont Blanc in the background)

But before the week was over, and considering some of the stupid stuff that we'd been doing, there was a major injury. Andy, doing what could be regarded as a simply jump just off-piste, fell awkwardly into some soft snow and did damage to an already aggrevated back injury. Not being able to ski down the rest of the run to the Ski Patrol, the Ski Patrol had to come to him. And because the resort is so large, there was no way for him to be taken down the mountain in a stretcher/sled, so he was airlifted off in a helicopter, much to the amusement of all of the boys who were with him at the time (I was skiing with Carly that day on our anniversary day). See the brilliant photos of the mountain rescue below!!

Andy being rescued and airlifted off the mountain; and checking his x-rays that night with the lads

At the end of the week we packed up all our gear and boarded the transfer bus early on Saturday morning for the long downhill drive back to Lyon airport, and the biggest queue i'd ever seen at an airport!! - after 2hrs of standing in line dealing with incompetant French check-in staff, and delays to the flight, we boarded the plane and returned to London Gatwick and then a trian back to Karen's place at Putney. And in just two days after being in the French Alps we'll be heading to Heathrow and homeward-bound to Australia for the wedding trip.

Having amazing snow the quality of which i've never seen or skiied on, excellent on-snow accommodation, and a great group of people; this trip was the best thing i'd done since moving to the UK - I only hope I can manage another trip skiing in Europe next winter.



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